France’s Framatome said on 12 July that the first reload of its GAIA Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel (EATF) had been installed in a US pressurised water reactor (PWR). The 64 fuel assemblies, manufactured at Framatome’s fuel fabrication facility in Richland, Washington, were loaded into the reactor as part of a standard spring refuelling outage.
“This first reload of GAIA in the US represents a significant milestone in Framatome’s innovations that provide increased flexibility and fuel efficiency for our customer’s operations,” said Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president, Fuel Business Unit at Framatome. “GAIA is our most advanced pressurised water reactor fuel design. It is designed using our global expertise and shows our commitment to help our customers improve plant performance.”
Framatome initiated a mission to innovate in advanced fuel designs aiming at further improvements, which resulted in GAIA fuel for PWRs and ATRIUM 11 fuel for boiling water reactors. The first GAIA reload was delivered in Europe in 2019 after a decade of extensive operational and commercial testing.
In February, Framatome said its GAIA technology had completed its first 18-month fuel cycle at Southern Nuclear's Vogtle 2 NPP in Georgia in the US, marking the first time a full-length EATF concept with both pellets and cladding had completed a fuel cycle in a reactor.
The plant’s experts had removed and inspected the four lead fuel assemblies (LFAs) during a refuelling outage in August 2020. This was the first of three planned 18-month cycles of operation for the LFAs, which were inserted into the reactor in April 2019.
The GAIA fuel assemblies consist of Framatome’s advanced chromium coating added to the state-of-the-art M5 Framatome zirconium alloy cladding, and chromia-enhanced fuel pellets. The chromium-coated cladding improves high-temperature oxidation resistance and reduces hydrogen generation in the unlikely event of loss of cooling. The coating also offers increased resistance to debris fretting, reducing the likelihood of a fuel failure during normal operations.